Experiential learning is a hallmark of the Rutgers Professional Science Master’s (PSM) program. Perisa Azhir, a Drug Discovery and Development Concentration student, took this to the next level when she traveled to Guangzhou, China.

In addition to being a student, Azhir is a Senior Quality Control Chemist at BeiGene, a global oncology-focused biotech company. BeiGene is expanding its manufacturing capabilities to a new location in Hopewell, New Jersey. Azhir was tasked to travel to the BeiGene location in Guangzhou, to study their manufacturing processes and protocols, and then to transfer these technologies to the new Hopewell location. Because drug therapies are involved, these technology transfers are highly scripted and regulated. They are routinely done by pharmaceutical and biotech companies who seek to make the same therapy at different locations.

Azhir recognized this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“With this mindset,” said Azhir, “I really wanted to go, and I wanted to learn everything that I could.”

Realizing this would be a stellar opportunity to grow professionally and step outside her comfort zone, Azhir approached her advisor, Dr. Beth Ann Murphy, to develop a Special Problems in Science and Business project with the Guangzhou-Hopwell technology transfer as its focus. These special topics projects allow students to take advantage of professional experiences and incorporate them into their education. Dr. Murphy is also Assistant Professor of Professional Practice and Life Science Coordinator.

“This was an opportunity for Perisa and [the PSM] program to do something different, something innovative,” said Dr. Murphy. “This would be a great experience for her. She would remember it for the rest of her life.”

woman standing in front of building
Perisa Azhir

Gearing Up for an International Adventure

Azhir and Dr. Murphy prepared diligently for Azhir’s trip abroad. They discussed deliverables to satisfy academic requirements for the MBS degree: Azhir delivered a written report on the technology transfer process. She created video diaries about her time in China and what she learned from her experience working in a different culture. Azhir will also share her experiences with the wider MBS community on April 15th via Zoom.

Dr. Murphy was a well-suited advisor for Azhir’s experience. In addition to Dr. Murphy’s role at MBS, she also has extensive experience working in the pharmaceutical industry. She could share her perspective and the challenges she faced when transferring assays.

To prepare for this trip, Azhir learned Mandarin, the language spoken in Guangzhou, and read the book The Culture Map by Erin Meyer.

“The book helped me understand the culture and mannerisms within the workplace,” said Azhir, which immensely helped her during her time in Guangzhou.

From New Jersey to Guangzhou

After many meetings with Dr. Murphy, Azhir boarded a plane to begin her journey. Azhir stayed in Guangzhou for a month and a half with two colleagues. Every week, Azhir learned a new method and went through various stages of practice until she could conduct them independently. She journaled every night, documenting the transfer protocols and her cultural experience.

In addition to learning constantly, Azhir also examined the cultural differences between the United States and China, including mannerisms and communication.

Azhir and her colleagues faced challenges when communicating due to language barriers. The translators communicated directly, and Azhir adjusted her language to reflect this.

“It was hard to do, especially when you have to be quick on your feet,” said Azhir.

Azhir pursued additional research to understand the methods used in Guangzhou to assist the transfer to the site in Hopewell with maximum efficiency.

On the weekends, Azhir explored historic sites around Guangzhou. She was awed by the city's immense history.

Azhir described one manager in China who made the experience memorable.

“She was so helpful and kind to us,” said Azhir, especially since Azhir was in an unfamiliar country where she was not proficient in the language.

“I learned a whole new culture,” said Azhir. “That changed me both professionally and academically.”

Returning with More Than Methods

Spending time immersed in another culture granted Azhir new insights.

“Not only did Perisa bring back the protocol to her company, but she also brought back the perspective of working in a different professional and cultural environment,” said Dr. Murphy. In an increasingly global world, working across cultures is an essential skill.

This experience also served as a prime example of the interaction between business and science, as well as another core value at MBS: experiential learning.

“The whole experience was hands-on, learn-as-you-go,” said Azhir.

“It makes sense to explore different avenues of how people can learn,” said Dr. Murphy, “and have people come back and share those experiences with the students here. Learning doesn’t just happen in a classroom.”

If you are an MBS student and have an idea for a Special Problems project, reach out to your advisor with a proposal. These projects must serve an academic purpose and demonstrate professional growth.

To learn more about Azhir’s experiences, tune in to her presentation via Zoom on April 15th.

Author(s): Julianna Rossano Published on: 04/11/2024
Tags: MBS students, student achievement, experiential learning